Part of a changemaker’s job is to imagine a different future.
Changemakers don’t settle for the way things are; they’re looking for solutions that will alter society for the better — whether they’re inventing a creative everyday recycling solution (like Ishaan and Porter, founders of Terracan) or pioneering a new way to test for a dangerous disease (like Ria and Pragnya, founders of The TuberculoSticks).
So, how do bold dreamers keep themselves on track? Setting the right kinds of goals will allow us to stay motivated, see what’s working (and what isn’t), and continue expanding the horizons of what’s possible. We’ve drawn together insights from working with hundreds of young changemakers. Let’s go!
Are your goals “smart”?
The widely-used SMART goals framework offers changemakers a great starting point to set goals.
To ensure your goal is simple and practical, use the SMART acronym like a checklist. After jotting down something you hope to achieve in the future, ask yourself: is this goal…Specific? (Is there a clear who, what, where, and when?) Is it measurable? (How will you be able to track the results?) Achievable? (How realistic is this goal? What time and resources will you need?) Relevant? (Why are you setting this goal? Does it align with your priorities and what’s happening in the world?) Time-based? (Does it include a deadline?)
Here’s an example of how we can change a general goal into a “smart” goal:
Ria, co-founder of The Tuberculosticks, finds the time-based part especially important, because it “urges me toward meeting my goal within a set time frame instead of putting it off.”
The power of shared goals
One of the best ways to unify a team is to get crystal-clear on the mission that brings you together. Ask: “What do we want to achieve together?” (And if you’re still in the process of building your team, check out our tips here).
As a group, spend a couple of hours brainstorming a list of potential goals, talk about them, and narrow it down to a short list — one that you can refer back to during team meetings, display on the wall, or even add to your project’s website if you like.
Asking mentors and experts for their feedback and perspective can also sharpen your goals and help you to reach them — whether you’re an activist, educator, storyteller, innovator, or scientist. For example, the TuberculoSticks team relies on research and input from others, like the professors and Ph.D. students from the Tuberculosis Research & Training Center, as well as biotechnology companies, to make sure that the goals are realistic and well-informed, says Ria.
Whether you’ve been working on a project for a few weeks or many years, we never outgrow the need to gather input from others.
Goals can validate our ideas…or inspire us to explore new directions
Consider goals a good testing grounds for an idea. When Ishaan and Porter came up with the idea for Terracan, a smart trash can that calculates your waste footprint and helps you reduce your garbage, they were basing it on a hypothesis: They believed that comparing one’s waste footprint with neighbor’s will drive behavior change.
One of Ishaan and Porter’s goals for their project was to validate that hypothesis (which they did — it turns out they’re onto something!) Many times, changemakers will experience a different scenario, one where the initial idea might not have seemed as “successful” as they were hoping. But this information is equally vital for the road ahead.
Collecting data and running surveys will not only help you figure out if you’re meeting your goals, but also reveal whether you’re focused on the right goal in the first place. Openness to change directions is key.
Consider setting a goal that’s all about learning. After the set period of time is up, revisit the goal and see how your results match up. Anything surprising stand out? Where will you go from here?
Goals guide us on when to say “yes” (and no)
“One major challenge for me was figuring out when to say no to new opportunities,” says Megan Chen, founder of The Urban Garden Project. (TUGI). She explains:
Strong, specific goals help us keep track of where we’re heading, where to focus our time and attention, and help us find allies heading in the same direction.
Figure out the next step
Break down goals into specific, doable items. Maybe that means picking up the phone to make a community connection, taking your project to the next stage of development, or even applying for the T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge, an opportunity for young changemakers to win funding and mentorship. (Learn all about it here!)
Whether it’s a big or small step, know that you’re getting closer to achieving your goals — and that’s worth celebrating.